In late October, Kim Kardashian shared a video on her Instagram Story of her brother Rob at her 39th birthday party. The clip showed Rob, dressed in a black sweatshirt and pants, as he walked down a hallway with his nieces, North and Chicago West and Penelope Disick, following behind him.
Within hours, the video went viral, with outlets like Entertainment Tonight, TMZ and Perez Hilton reporting on how Rob “appeared to have lost a lot of weight” and looked “noticeably slimmer.” A couple weeks later, Rob was in the news again when he posted an Instagram photo of him and his mom, Kris Jenner, on Halloween. The narrative was similar: “Rob Kardashian Showed Off His Weight Loss In A Rare Halloween Photo,” BuzzFeed wrote in its headline, followed by, “Looking good, Rob.”
Celebrity weight transformations have dominated the headlines for decades. The search term “celebrity weight loss before and after” offers more than 170 million results on Google, and shows like Dancing With the Stars and Strictly Come Dancing have galleries dedicated to how much weight celebrities lose during their time in the competition. The media writes about it because people click, and with Rob’s history of struggling with his physical and mental health on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, it’s understandable why a new photo of him would make the news. Still, just because there’s a demand doesn’t mean that reporting on a celebrity’s weight is OK.
According to registered dietician Abby Langer, complimenting someone on their weight loss is “far more loaded” than people think. “When celebrities lose weight, a lot of the time, not all the time, they don’t use the healthiest method,” Langer tells StyleCaster. “By complimenting them, these media outlets are encouraging people to use the same methods and are basically saying to us, ‘Listen, these people righted their wrongs by losing weight, and now they’re acceptable.”
Shira Rosenbluth, a psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders, explains that positive words around weight loss often sends a negative message to someone about what they used to look like. “When you use words like ‘good’ and ‘you look so much better now,’ I think, ‘So what are we saying about what their bodies looked like before?’” she tells StyleCaster. “What happens if they gain weight back? Now they look bad? Those are the unsaid words that happen.”
As someone who works with eating disorders and has struggled with an eating disorder herself, Rosenbluth cautions against commenting on someone’s weight in general. “I can speak from my own experience of losing weight from anorexia and everyone congratulating me on my control and my discipline when the reality was I was killing myself and nobody knew that,” she says. “I was being praised for essentially killing myself.”
Rob isn’t the only celebrity in the recent news cycle to have his weight loss reported on. In late October, a nutritionist told Us Weekly that Adele looked “really amazing” after a 15 to 20-pound weight loss over the span of six months. The nutritionist went on to describe how “sculpted” her clavicle, jaw and arms looked in a recent photo of her in an off-the-shoulder dress at Drake’s 33rd birthday party. By using words like “really amazing,” Rosenbluth explains that the media is not only sending a dangerous message to young and impressionable readers, but also to those who may have similar body types to the celebrities who lost weight. “Everyone is praising these celebrities’ after bodies, so what does that say to these people whose bodies are the before bodies and how this can impact them?” she says.
Langer also points out that it’s important to recognize that a celebrity’s lifestyle is different than the average person. “We don’t have the support or the access to the support that they have,” she says. “They have chefs and trainers and their livelihood, unfortunately, depends on how they look.” So what does this mean for the media? Most experts agree that there’s no positive effect to reporting on a celebrity’s weight.
“Instead of focusing on ‘Wow, this person lost weight,’ it would be a million times better to focus on, ‘Wow, this person did this accomplishment,’ which would then shift people’s focus on weight not being the only thing that’s important in a woman’s or a man’s life,” says Sarah J. Blake, a psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders.
Though there’s nothing wrong with becoming healthy, the media’s focus on one’s weight and physical appearance is dangerous. We don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, especially for celebrities, and the constant emphasis on what a celebrity looked like before and after is only perpetuating the obsession of thinness in society and the entertainment industry. Whether you’re Rob Kardashian, Adele or someone who loves to read celebrity news, let’s stop thinking of weight loss or gain as something to celebrate or criticize and instead, think of it as what is often is: normal.
“People’s bodies change over their life, whether it’s menopause or whether it’s puberty,” adds Rosenbluth. “We need to stop focusing on that as a good or a bad thing. It’s just neutral. It’s how it is.”